So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--   for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:12-13).

Last Sunday we discussed the contrast Paul made between life in the spirit and life in the flesh. For Paul, life in the flesh brought dead, whereas life in the spirit led to a life of peace, joy and happiness.

In today’s reading from Romans Paul continues to reflect on life in the spirit and life in the flesh. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism are enabled to live in the Spirit and the Spirit of God dwells in us. The Spirit is the energising power which makes it possible for us to live in the Spirit. Without the spirit we cannot live good lives that please God. Also of note is the fact that if we do not have the Spirit we are not part of Christ.

It is the Spirit that gives life to our bodies. Without the Spirit our bodies become slaves to sin, are greatly influenced by the power of evil and experience physical and spiritual death. Sin destroys our bodies, impairs our relationship with God and robs us of our son-ship with God.

The presence of the Spirit is no guarantee that we will not have desires for the flesh. There is a constant war at play as we are tempted by the flesh to disobey God and do what is wrong. We must always make use of the Spirit within us so that we will not fall to the temptations of the flesh. It is possible to be in the church and yet live according to the flesh.

A reading of the text will show that for Paul the body is neither good nor bad. How we use our bodies determines if we are living according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. When Paul speaks of the flesh he is referring to a body that is used inappropriately and opposed to God. To live inappropriately is to live according to the flesh. Living according to the flesh speaks of a sinful life and this is manifested in various ways. Paul gives us an indication of what this kind of life is like:  “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 cf. Romans 1: 29-31, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--   for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:12-13). Christians are challenged to live lives that are governed by kingdom principles. As Christians we cannot adopt the standards of the world that are at variance with the teaching of Christ. One of the problems we face is our desire to live in both worlds at the same time. We want to serve God and mammon at the same time. We are debtors not to the flesh but to Christ. We must not become slaves of sin but slaves of God. This is the point Paul makes as he contrasts life in the Spirit with life in the flesh.

The weakness of human nature cannot be used as an excuse for living according to the flesh. The environment in which we were raised cannot be used as an excuse for life in the flesh. So very often we seek to rationalise life in the flesh and to justify what cannot be justified by blaming our fallen human nature: we blame the education system, our past history, the environment, our culture and the like. Human nature is weak, but Paul says if we “put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”  Yes, we live in a sinful world, but there is no need for us to habitually sell our souls to sin and the power of evil. Yes, we might be trapped, we will make mistakes from time to time but deliverance is available as Paul discovered: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We do not have to live in the flesh. We do not have to live sinful lives. We choose to live in the flesh because it suits our needs. We choose the flesh and not the Spirit because of the pleasure it brings and the ‘apparent’ happiness we derive from it. Do we know the difference between living in the Spirit and living in the flesh? Yes, every person knows if he or she is living in the Spirit or living in the flesh. For convenience we might pretend we do not know but to do so is to fool ourselves and live in a fool’s paradise. We do not need anyone to tell us if we are in the Spirit or the Flesh. We all know where we are.

What is the dominant and controlling factor in our lives, the Spirit or the flesh? 

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